The Tenth Saintby D J Niko
Cambridge archaeologist Sarah Weston makes an unusual discovery in the ancient Ethiopian mountain kingdom of Aksuma sealed tomb with inscriptions in an obscure dialect. Along with her colleague, American anthropologist Daniel Madigan, she tries to identify the entombed man and translate the inscriptions. Tracking down clues in Addis Ababa and the monasteries of… See more details below
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Cambridge archaeologist Sarah Weston makes an unusual discovery in the ancient Ethiopian mountain kingdom of Aksuma sealed tomb with inscriptions in an obscure dialect. Along with her colleague, American anthropologist Daniel Madigan, she tries to identify the entombed man and translate the inscriptions. Tracking down clues in Addis Ababa and the monasteries of Lalibela, Sarah and Daniel uncover a codex in the subterranean library revealing the secret of the tomba set of prophecies about Earth’s final hours, written by a man hailed by Ethiopian mystics as Coptic Christianity’s 10th saint. Faced with violent opposition and left for dead in the heart of the Simien Mountains, Sarah and Daniel survive to journey to Paris, where they’re given a 14th-century letter describing the catastrophic events that will lead to the planet’s demise. Connecting the two discoveries, Sarah faces a deadly conspiracy to keep the secret buried in order to promote technological advances presently leading toward the prophesied end of the Earth.
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The Tenth Saint
By D. J. Niko
Medallion Press, Inc.Copyright © 2012 D. J. Niko
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe camel trod tentatively on a patch of cracked earth. The upper crust shattered underfoot the heavily laden beast like unfired pottery broken into a thousand pieces. The camel driver, a gaunt man shrouded in indigo gauze from head to bare feet, made an urgent clicking sound and hit the animal on its hindquarters with a palm frond whip. The camel took two quick steps in reaction to the insult, then halted, groaning its displeasure. Despite repeated calls from its driver, it was going no farther and that was that.
The man peeled back his headdress to uncover his face. His skin was the color of antelope hide, with deep grooves carved into his forehead and cheek hollows. The sun had taken its toll on him over the fifty years he had walked the desert. He looked like an emaciated octogenarian, tired and beaten down by life, but his eyes, pools of liquid onyx, shone with a spirit full of vigor and wisdom, the kind needed to guide a tribe of nomads through this unforgiving country. He squinted to the sky to confirm the position of the sun. It was as he thought: directly overhead. He appraised the desert around him. All that he surveyed was arid and parched. Parched like the camels and his fellow riders. The midday sun scorched without remorse, and there was no salvation—no water, no shade—in sight.
With one hand, he drew circles in the air to summon the other men. "We will stop here," he told them when they'd gathered round. "The animals are tired. They must have water."
"But, Shaykh, there is no water," said one of the younger men, his narrow eyes full of doubt. "There hasn't been water in many moons." The leader put his hand on the young man's shoulder. "Then we shall find some, Abu. The desert is our mother. She always provides."
The young man did not talk back to his elder. It was the Bedouin way: trust and obey. The elders had proven themselves as men of great character and honor and, as such, commanded the respect of the goums. Hairan was chief of the tribe, the Bedouins' moral and spiritual leader.
The others stood by the old chief, waiting for direction. Hairan instructed them to make camp and start a fire. Then he summoned the old woman Taneva and asked her to gather some of the womenfolk and walk toward the east in search of water.
Taneva kneeled before the chief in reverence, shrinking into her black woolen robes, the standard dress of Bedouin widows. She was the eldest woman in the tribe and therefore the one who had witnessed the most, including the birth of two generations. Nothing remained of her youth but dignity. Her eyes, ringed in black kohl, smoldered like a half-spent fire. Her receding brown lips were taut with determination. The strands of hair escaping her black veil framed her face like threads of silver tinsel.
Hairan motioned to her to rise and stand as his equal. "There was rain in the east two days ago." He pointed to a pair of high sand dunes. "Behind those dunes is a low valley. Look for the water there."
Taneva bowed and backed away.
Three women accompanied Taneva eastward, the sand hot as a simmering cauldron beneath their bare feet. Balancing earthen jars on their heads, they did not complain but walked on, as their people had done for centuries before them.
For half an hour they endured the discomfort, and they were rewarded for it. Just as Hairan had predicted, a pool of water was inside a hollow in the sand. It wasn't much-barely enough to last the day—and it swarmed with insects. But tomorrow was a new day, and it would bring as much hope as any other. The women kneeled to collect what little water there was, straining it through the gauze of their head veils to purify it.
Driven by a premonition that there was more to find, Taneva left the others and walked toward another depression in the sand. As she came to the edge of the hollow, her gaze fell upon a thing she had never before encountered. She squinted to get a clearer look.
In the sand was a bulge.
She hurried down, raising great plumes of dust with her bare feet. Something was there, indeed. Something unnatural.
She approached the mass and with a desert woman's sense of duty began brushing the sand aside to reveal what lay beneath. Her hand swept over a coarse snarl like the heap of her woolen embroidery threads after a sandstorm. She jerked her hand away, her eyes wide and mouth trembling with dread. Instinctively she looked around for help, but no one was near. With a deep breath, she returned to her task. The women of the desert, like the men, did not turn away from what was put on their path. It was their fate. To walk away would be to defy the powers, which would lead to certain ruin.
Taneva's hand came upon something hard, a protrusion, like bone. With both hands, she made a groove in the sand and dug with new resolve. The head revealed itself first. The eyes were deep in their sockets, the skin around them purple from impact or pain. The hair was fair of color and short, so crusted with sand it resembled the fleece of a long-dead sheep.
Taneva pushed the rest of the sand aside to uncover the naked body of a man, curled in the fetal position and pale as death. She pressed both hands to her mouth to contain a shriek. Falling to her knees next to the body, she chanted the song of the dying as an offering for the soul of the victim.
That night, Hairan tended to the stranger inside his own tent. By all accounts, the man should have been dead. By some miracle, he wasn't. Hairan himself doubted he would live, for his breathing was shallow, his body battered, and his unconscious state closer to death than slumber. But as a Bedouin, a shaykh, and a medicine man, he was bound to care for the stranger until he had either recovered or given up the fight.
Hairan had put the man on his own mat and covered him with all of his woolen blankets to reverse his plummeting temperature. The stranger's skin was cold and dry to the touch, as if life was slowly departing. The chief had never seen a man with skin the hue of bleached bone or hair the color of the sun. It did not matter. Whoever the stranger was and wherever he had come from, they were the same, just as man and beast and grain of desert sand were the same.
With the vacillating flame of an oil lamp as his sole guidance, the old man placed some herbs on a stone and rolled them between his fingers. He picked up a pinch and put it to his nose. "Not enough," he muttered and continued crushing until the healing oils of the leaves were released.
When he was satisfied with the consistency and aroma of the paste, he rubbed a handful on the stranger's cheeks, forehead, and lips and another on his chest. The remaining pulp he placed inside the man's hands, closing them in loose fists.
Hairan lifted his own hands to the sky in deference to the powers. "I am a simple man who knows nothing," he chanted softly. "Whatever wisdom has been granted me I gladly share with my pale brother. But he is not mine to save. His fate is known only by the Great Spirit, the keeper of all life."
He curled up on the ground next to the stranger. That would be his bed tonight, cold and inhospitable as it was. Discomfort was not appalling to the Bedouin. It was as much a part of existence in the desert as the beating sun or a camel's foul breath or the endless expanse of dunes gilded by the last streaks of daylight.
Hairan stared at the man who lay battling for his earthly life. With his sharp-angled nose, pale pink lips, long fingers and limbs, and unpigmented hide, he was neither Bedouin nor Arab, nor Jew for that matter.
Taneva walked in with a glass of warm goat's milk. "Will he live?"
The chief shook his head. "Of this I cannot be certain."
"Is he one of those savages from the East, Shaykh?"
"Perhaps. Or perhaps he is from the other side of the Red Sea, a trader. There is no need to ask such questions. All things will be revealed if it is time and if we are ready."
"You are a wise man, Hairan. A generous man."
"I do only what is required of me. We are all one, and we live to serve each other."
She threw her own blanket on Hairan and stroked his hair tenderly in a rare display of affection. Before the other inhabitants of the goums, he was the shaykh and she an old woman. Only when they were alone was she his mother. "Your father would be proud. Good night, my son."
The stranger opened his eyes on the morning of the seventh day. The veil of unconsciousness still weighed heavily on his eyelids, and his body ached so much he could do no more than lie still.
He surveyed his surroundings in the stupor of long slumber, like a bear awakened from hibernation. The walls were thick burlap, the roof held up by a tree trunk in the center of the room. There was no floor. He lay on blankets stretched out on sand. In the far corner was a small bench carved from wood holding some stone implements. At his bedside were an earthen pot, blackened from fire, and a pile of filthy gauze. His blankets were woolen and so heavy he did not have the strength to lift them, but they were beautiful, obviously woven by an artist's hands, with images of stars and scorpions and all-seeing eyes in indigo, saffron, and crimson.
Though he tried to sort out what was happening, his brain was not processing it. The images were unfamiliar. He knew he was inside a tent, but whose, where? Was he in danger? And how had he gotten here? His head ached as he tried to recall the circumstances that had brought him to this place. He could not. He was looking around in frustration, desperate for a clue to spark his memory, when a man ducked in.
The man nodded at him but said nothing. A tight smile crossed his weathered lips, and his face contorted to reveal a network of furrows.
"Who are you?" he croaked in English. "What is this place? Why am I here?"
The chief said something in an incomprehensible language, dipped gauze in liquid, and wiped his brow.
He started to pull away but lacked the strength to put up a fight.
The chief handed him a small clay pot, pointed to his own lips, and spoke again.
Still bewildered, he turned his head away. "Leave me be, old man. Go tend to your goats or something."
The chief slipped out of the tent in silence.
With eyes closed, he tried to summon a memory. Random images raced through his mind, and it was impossible to make sense of them. He saw faces—faces he did not recognize, their features erased by memory's cruel hand. Metallic voices banged around his head, mocking him with their sinister pitch. There was darkness, then a bright orange light, amorphous and violent, like fire. The image chilled his blood. A woman's voice emerged from behind the darkness. He could not see her face, but her voice was calm and comforting. She spoke a single word: Gabriel.
He knew with all certainty that the name was his own, but his memory cheated him of all else. No amount of effort could muster the recollection of who Gabriel was and what he had been.
Excerpted from The Tenth Saint by D. J. Niko Copyright © 2012 by D. J. Niko. Excerpted by permission of Medallion Press, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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